Our Thursday Theologians group had our first Bible Study this week. We’re studying Jesus’ parables, and the first we tackled was the Parable of the Sower in Matthew. I have to say, right up front, that we call it a “study” only for lack of a better word. “Study” has all sorts of academic connotations. You study a subject to gain sufficient knowledge to pass a test. Then you move on to the next subject.
I’ve found that the Bible, and especially the Parables, don’t lend themselves very well to that approach. On a certain level they do, certainly. I mean, I spent four years of my life after college studying the Bible, and when it came to the tests, I passed enough to earn a degree called a Master of Divinity, if you can imagine such a thing. So I had knowledge, and a piece of paper to prove it. But on another level, the biggest thing I learned in four years of studying the Bible is the depth of my ignorance. Twenty-five years of ministry have only added fathoms to those depths.
Yes, I’ve gained a lot more Biblical knowledge. But when it comes to gaining Biblical knowledge, it’s a little like getting stuck in a revolving door. After a while you just get dizzy and often wind up back on the street where you started. The more you know, the more you realize how much you don’t know.
So, in our group, we approach the Bible not so much to gain knowledge and mastery of the Parables, but to allow the Parables to speak to us in our ignorance. We read, we discuss, we reflect, and we try to remain open to where the Parable is leading us. What a gift the Bible is, when you approach it like that, especially in a group. When we come together in our collective ignorance, the Bible yields its pearl of wisdom and grace.
For instance, in the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 3:3-9), we all quickly came to the understanding that the seeds represented the Kingdom of God. What was striking in this was how the Sower (God?) was scattering this precious seed (Kingdom?) with such reckless abandon. This seed was going all over the place! Onto the rocks, the path, into the brush and the weeds! Only some of it landed on good soil, where it took hold and produced a magnificent bounty. The practical managers in all of us wondered if it wouldn’t make better sense to refine the sowing methods to eliminate waste and maximize results.
And yet, all this week, what has persistently remained with me is the image of God, standing in the field of the world under a blazing sun, flinging the precious seed of the Kingdom into the air as though it was all good soil. Making no distinctions. Each day, coming back to that field after the crop has been harvested, and with reckless abandon letting fly the seed exactly as before. Knowing and not knowing.
This may be one of the best definitions of grace I’ve heard yet. God’s knowing and not knowing. Think about it. In the world, the more precious something is, the more we want to restrict its use, so as not to waste it. So that there will be enough to go around. Jesus seems to be saying the opposite. What is truly precious in life must be offered without restriction. Freely and lavishly. This Parable leaves me to reflect on what I would hold back, what I would preserve and restrict, as the Sower sweeps by my life, tossing the precious seed to the winds.